THE SOCIAL RESPONSE TO VIOLENCE
Carles Castro Analyst
03/06/2021 00:35 77
A former BBC director wrote that “freedom of expression is a fundamental right that must be defended in practice and if necessary with the police present and with riot gear on”. This statement should be universal in character, but some democratic societies seem to distrust the role of the security forces as guarantors of freedoms.
The need to regain dialogue
Polls reveal that the political conflict has led Catalan society to internal isolation
For example, a survey by the International Catalan Institute for Peace recently stated that almost 70% of Catalans consider that the presence of the police in the street represents a “threat” to their safety. Surely, no one asked those affected by the multiple protests that Catalonia has experienced in the last decade.
Furthermore, according to the same survey, the vast majority of the citizens of Catalonia would have blind faith in mediation to resolve conflicts. The use of force would not only be undesirable but even unnecessary. They are opinions worthy of a Nordic oasis, although they can also fit into the mythical Catalan oasis.
However, the survey also reveals some perceptions that do not quite fit into this idyllic vision of current Catalan society. For example, almost 40% of Catalans say they feel discriminated against in their daily lives for political or ideological reasons. Does this perception have something to do with the drift that the identity and territorial debate has taken?
A mysterious duality
Catalonia is suspicious of the role of the security forces but also fears that coexistence will be threatened by radicalism
The answer should be affirmative in light of the same survey: another 43% admit that they see the sovereignty process as a threat. And it is to be assumed that a good part of the 55% who do not share that opinion will place the threats on the opposite side to secession.
In any case, there seems to be a point of fantasy in the diagnosis that describes Catalonia as “a mature and active society at a social and political level, committed to tolerance and committed to mediation and dialogue rather than the use of force”. If this were the case right now, two indicators would not be recorded – these correspond to the ICPS annual survey – that break that mirror and vaguely recall the lead years of other societies wounded by identity dilemmas.
The first indicator reveals that two thirds of Catalans fear that the debate on secession could damage coexistence. This level of concern is close to or exceeds 90% among PSC, Ciudadanos or PP voters, but it also reaches more than half of Esquerra voters. Only among the followers of Junts or the CUP is there a very large percentage of citizens (which reaches 67%) who do not perceive any risk in persisting in the sovereignty process.
The other indicator that reflects the internal tensions to which Catalan society is subjected is more subtle, but just as significant. Two thirds of those consulted admit that they do not talk about the territorial debate with people who are not part of their family. The survey does not ask about the reasons for this silence (nor about what happens in family discussions that address this controversial issue), but the responses by vote recall provide some clue.
The consequences of polarization
The lack of dialogue has been transferred to a divided citizenry, which avoids debate and entrenches itself in silence
For example, up to 74% of Socialist voters and around 70% of those of the PP or Cs avoid this issue outside the family circle. Even among ERC voters, the majority (58%) avoid bringing up this debate when dealing with people who are not part of their family. Only 60% of Junts or CUP voters address the goal of independence outside the family territory (and even so, 40% of them avoid it).
These figures speak of a dangerous spiral of silence that has led Catalan society to not dialogue with itself. As if, pushed by the political conflict, many people had given up listening to those who disagree with them, while the hooligans of each side are dedicated to “insulting, intimidating, covering their ears or preventing them from speaking”. And in this scenario, not only freedom of expression is dying, no matter how much some try to revive it by denouncing the imprisonment of individuals who defend violence.
In reality, the real danger that this widespread silence reflects points to the inability of a society to recognize itself in its diversity and to bet effectively “on mediation and dialogue” rather than on unilateral imposition. But, for this, the political leaders must also break the isolation and open a new stage oriented to the great pacts of the country.
The big responsibility
Polls also reveal that political leaders have the ability to moderate or radicalize their followers
After all, polls reveal that political leaders have the ability to moderate or radicalize their constituents; that is, they can defuse or excite conflict through a word or gesture. That is their big responsibility.
Faced with a disoriented and divided society, there may be political and social actors who come to think that the support of “half of half” of the voters is enough to impose their concept of country on the remaining majority. But that’s like believing that yelling replaces conversation.
Words can change history and contribute to progress, but only when they are born out of dialogue and agreement. And that is precisely what the most active sectors of Catalan civil society are demanding these days. That and an elementary observation: the last resort to defend the rights and freedoms of the open society against its enemies is the police. Sometimes even with the anti-riot gear on.